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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Dear Dad

Address Unknown

© Mj Pettengill
© Mj Pettengill

Dear Dad,

I have been writing to you at this unknown address for many years.

Should you return home, you would be wordless and perhaps shed a tear or maybe two, which is something that men of your generation tried so hard to suppress, and at such a cost. 

The world is undergoing a monumental shift—it has become unrecognizable. We reached the point where it is vital to the survival of the human race to change—to take action that will aid in healing Our Mother. Tragically, we have become like a disease. We spread, we damage, and we kill life. 

I used to be afraid. Now I am brave and hopeful. We know what we must do if we reach deep within ourselves, individually and collectively. To rise above this dilemma, it is critical to tear away greed, gluttony, and apathy to make way for thoughtful actions and comprehend the consequences of our self-destructive behavior.

We must stop the wars—the senseless killing that no one can define (other than profit). Each casualty is someone’s son, husband, father, brother, sister, daughter, wife, or mother. When children are killed, we have lost the meaning of our existence. It is true. We are one; it is not too late. 

Dad, it seems as though people have forgotten about kindness and clarity, gentleness, and the joy of simple things like dandelions, hot chocolate, and listening to the peepers celebrate the onset of spring. 


In this frenzied world, we have abandoned authentic communication, basic respect, and simply sitting still in one place. Ah, stillness, the wonder of having a rich inner life is what sustains me. You see, some things never change. Thank you for instilling patience in me.

You must have smiled when I consulted with you about my lousy bowling technique. Do you remember how much I loathe competition? I dreaded the thought of bowling. After all, I always lose. 

I finally took your advice, Dad. I stood in the middle of the bowling mosh pit, closed my eyes, and listened to you. I tried to be humble, but it freaked me out when I won. Not only was it the first time I ever won at bowling, it was the first time I did not lose. I was ready to hear you; it’s never too late. Thank you. 

I am finishing the fourth book in my series. It is still doing well with much-appreciated support and interest in our lost history. Sometimes it was hard. Uncovering such dark information regarding our past has weighed heavily upon me, especially when witnessing the chaos and confusion that has engulfed us at present.

You will be glad to know that I inhabited the characters, especially Nellie, throughout my writing process, based on your grandmother. It allowed me to explore our Abenaki roots, which I now know you understand. 

I believe in my work and am committed to the forgotten ones buried in the pauper cemetery. It is a divine spark within me. I tend to the Book of Numbered Souls. And I make plant medicine as our ancestors did.

But Dad, we always have regrets. Fortunately, they are not all that we have. I am learning to let go of the fact that you frequently requested that my bands play When the Saints Go Marching In. I thought it was a joke. You winked and smiled, and I laughed. 

I didn’t know you really meant it, Dad. I could have easily obtained or arranged the music for any of my bands. It hurts me that I finally played it when they carried you out of the church. When you requested it a few weeks before you left, my soul collapsed within me. I silently shrieked, “Why didn’t I play it for him before?” 

However, when the pallbearers went to carry your casket from the church, it was like someone else (not me) who stood up bravely and followed your flag-covered coffin slowly out into the sunny day to the waiting hearse. 

Everyone followed us. I could hear my sweet Anna crying and saw her briefly from the corner of my eye. I wanted to dash over and hug her, but I gave her a look of love, brown eyes to brown eyes.

I don’t know how it was possible to push the necessary air through that old horn of mine. Still, I wailed on it, playing When the Saints Go Marching In as a genuine New Orleans Dixie funeral dirge. It was deep, schmaltzy, and heartfelt, just as you wanted and how it needed to be.

I was shaking to the core and numb when I climbed into my car. I reached into the back seat and held Anna’s hand, and we watched my sons, along with other family members, slide the casket into the hearse. I was proud of them in their youth and as young men honoring you, Dad – the positive male role model in their lives.

The kids and I drove in silence in the long procession of vehicles while Purcell’s Queen Mary’s Funeral music played appropriately in the background. We knew that it wasn’t over yet. It was probably the most challenging part regarding my contribution to your service. Taps.

I had played Taps hundreds of times going back to Junior High School, vowing a few years before that I wouldn’t become the Taps Queen when more and more organizations were hiring me to play it. That was not where I wanted my music career to go.

I thought about my cousin John and how he played Taps at your brother’s funeral. I was too young to remember Uncle Edward very well. John was never the same after playing Taps for his father. I was not a witness to the event. However, the story lives on. Would it happen to me? I wondered.

We walked over to the gravesite and gathered in a circle. I was reassured by the Cardinal’s song emerging from the moment of your passing to the calling hours at the funeral home, at the church, and then at the cemetery. Suddenly I didn’t really know what to do next. I bowed my head in prayer and distanced myself from the circle.

With my cornet in hand, I slipped away and headed for one of the only trees in sight. I know Dad, me, and trees (smile). The soldiers were close by. I recognized many of them from the countless parades we played in and all the other times I played Taps. 

Dad, I never thought of you as a soldier, probably because you never came off as one. You were fortunate to have served in Occupied Japan after the war ended. You were spared possible PTSD and maybe even your life or limb. I guess that isn’t how soldiers think, but I am not a soldier and do not think in those terms.

The soldiers whispered amongst themselves and prepared for the 21-gun salute. I summoned my courage and stepped out from behind the tree. No fear. I wanted to play in full view with pride and conviction. Again, it seemed like I was watching from somewhere else. 

“Ready? Aim! Fire!” I felt the gunshots inside the walls of my chest. I waited until they were finished and paused. I always played Taps with sincerity, but this time it was different. It was for you, Dad. Suddenly, all that strength I got simply from being “Ramsey’s Daughter” came to the forefront. I played as a daughter – your daughter – not a soldier. I played it forte so that the sound would carry sweetly and consistently throughout. I did not rush; I may have paused more than ever before in between phrases. Musically it was fine, emotionally necessary, and a must spiritually. I savored each note and honored you as a man, a soldier, and my father – the final tribute that I would pay you in front of family, friends, and God.

Yes, Dad. It did change me. I became stronger, as you knew that I would. Of course, I cannot say the same for the other music I played at your funeral, but Taps was a symbol of our bond based on a pillar of strength. The Pettengill way that all of us have so adamantly owned. Dad, it does not fade; it remains.

The silence following Taps was filled with love and profundity. I stayed near the tree and smiled at my sweet Anna as she gave me her look of love, brown eyes to brown eyes.

Another Father’s Day is here, another day that I miss you. However, I feel blessed to have had you as my earthly father and honor the gifts you gave me in life that continue to unfold. I sense your presence in the natural world and in my dreams daily.

I think of you when I stand perfectly still and hand-feed the birds. I smile and echo bird calls like you. I wish to express the importance of honorable hunting and sustainability to those not aligned with our ancestors’ customs and ways. I always leave enough for our feathered, furred, leafed, and scaly brothers and sisters.  

© Mj Pettengill
© Mj Pettengill

Because of your brother, Milton, I learned more about you, me, and the others. I respect and admire you more than when you tread upon the earth. How is this possible? You look down. You know.

I continue to be your daughter who is oh so perfect and yet wildly imperfect, who dares to admit when she is wrong but has never stopped trying to do what is right. I will shine my light.

I love you. 


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